Among the wide feedback that we have been receiving from around the globe, offering support and useful contributions, some time ago we received a suggestion for an analysis, from a brother priest, regarding one of the topics addressed by Francis in a General Audience, during the preparatory series for the Synod of Bishops on the family. This request already contains some excellent points for this study, and so we decided to make it available to our readers. Obviously, we have excluded the parts of the letter that might reveal the identity of the priest (and have copied from the original English translation passages that our brother priest cites in Spanish).
‘Dear Brothers in the priesthood:
Congratulations for this great work!
I am a priest […] who seeks to teach authentic Catholic doctrine to the faithful. I have observed with sadness that the words of the Vicar of Christ often confuse the faithful, even those who heard of them through the Catholic media.
I read a paragraph from the last catechesis of the Pope [June 24, 2015] that seems to sow confusion regarding the obligation to follow the commandments of Christ. It is the following passage:
It is true, on the other hand, that there are cases in which separation is inevitable. At times it becomes even morally necessary, precisely when it is a matter of removing the weaker spouse or young children from the gravest wounds caused by abuse and violence, by humiliation and exploitation, by disregard and indifference.
There are, thanks be to God, those who, sustained by faith and by love for their children, bear witness to their fidelity to a bond they believed in, although it may seem impossible to revive it. Not all those who are separated feel called to this vocation. Not all discern, in their solitude, the Lord calling them. Around us we find various families in so-called irregular situations – I don’t really like this word – and it causes us to wonder. How do we help them? How do we accompany them? How do we accompany them so that the children aren’t taken hostage by either dad or mom?’
We might ask if perhaps the commandments should be obeyed only by those who ‘feel the vocation to do so?’ If within the difficulties encountered in following the commandments of God, I do not recognize ‘a calling of the Lord’, would I no longer be obliged to obey them? If the commandments of God are the truths that makes us free, leading us along the path of fullness, are there contradictory paths by which men may arrive at fullness? May those who feel called to obey the commandments of God and those who do not feel called, equally progress toward sanctity?
It seems to me that Pope Francis contradicts that which Saint John Paul II said in Familiaris Consortio, no. 34:
They [married people] cannot however look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future: they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy. ‘And so what is known as ‘the law of gradualness’ or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law,’ as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations. In God’s plan, all husbands and wives are called in marriage to holiness, and this lofty vocation is fulfilled to the extent that the human person is able to respond to God’s command with serene confidence in God’s grace and in his or her own will.’( John Paul II, Homily at the Close of the Sixth Synod of Bishops (October 25, 1980) )
The Scripture is also clear with respect to the fact that one may not reach eternal life without fulfilling the commandments: ‘Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God’ (1Cor 6:9-10).
The Pope says that he does not like to label as ‘irregular’, the unions that the Bible calls ‘adultery’. A question arises: What does he wish us to call them? Marriages? We cannot stop calling things by their real name, because the faithful may become confused and fail to distinguish between good and evil.
The warning of Isaiah could be applied to us: ‘Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who change darkness into light, and light into darkness, who change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter’ (Is 5:20)!
I hope that this information is of use, for it appears that this part of the Pope’s message may cause much confusion, and I have not found any commentary about it online.
I pray for you so that God bless you and continue granting you his wisdom.’
We could say that in this excellent proposal, our study is already almost prepared, but it is always our duty to investigate the riches of the Magisterium. Meditating about these words, the consoling words of the Savior come to mind: ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light’. This passage is reassuring for so many Christians who must face difficulties in order to bear the name of Our Lord with pride, in the midst of this apostate world. It is also the case of those who after suffering abandonment by a spouse, but who then find the strength to remain faithful to God in their new situation. Loneliness is not a very desirable companion, and the perspective of a life without a family may seem sad and bitter. But it is still possible to find happiness in this state. The example of saints and the doctrine of the Church are very clear: true happiness and peace consists doing the will of God, and fulfilling his commandments.
One who strays from the commandments of God and succumbs under the weight of his passions loses serenity, and will find himself obliged to carry a terribly heavy yoke.
Consequently, we cannot but caution those who vacillate between fidelity and sin, that a union outside of the law of God is not a solution to improve your lives. Rather, the solution is found in confiding in God and following his precepts. There is no third path with respect to the commandments of God: we either fulfill or transgress them. In fulfilling them, we enter eternal happiness, while in transgressing them, we receive an eternal chastisement.
Teachings of the Magisterium
I – The situation of separated spouses is the same for all: a second union may not be formed, and any union after a separation is considered irregular
This truth about the indissolubility of marriage, like the entire Christian message, is addressed to the men and women of every time and place
A positive presentation of the indissoluble union is important, in order to rediscover its goodness and beauty. First of all, one must overcome the view of indissolubility as a restriction of the freedom of the contracting parties, and so as a burden that at times can become unbearable. Indissolubility, in this conception, is seen as a law that is extrinsic to marriage, as an ‘imposition’ of a norm against the ‘legitimate’ expectations of the further fulfilment of the person. Add to this the widespread notion that indissoluble marriage is only for believers, who cannot try to ‘impose’ it on the rest of civil society. To give a valid and complete response to this problem one must begin with the word of God. […] Jesus goes radically beyond the debates of his day concerning the factors that could justify divorce asserting: ‘For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so’ (Mt 19:8). […] This truth about the indissolubility of marriage, like the entire Christian message, is addressed to the men and women of every time and place. In order to make that a reality, testimony to that truth must be given by the Church and, in particular, by individual families as ‘domestic Churches’ in which husband and wife recognize that they are bound to each other forever by a bond that demands a love that is ever renewed, generous and ready for sacrifice. (John Paul II. Address to the prelate auditors, officials and advocates of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, January 28, 2002)
Christian life must be coherent with the faith
In today’s society, many values which affect the dignity of man are at stake. The defense and promotion of the same depend in great part on the life of faith and the coherence of the Christians with the truths that they profess. Among these values it is fitting to highlight the respect for life from conception to natural death; the effective guarantee of the fundamental rights of the person; the sanctity and indissolubility of Christian marriage, as well as the stability and dignity of the family. These are the most urgent exigencies for the much desired social peace to be possible. (John Paul II. Letter to the Archbishop of Mexico, Norberto Rivera Carrera, on the first centenary of the crowning of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, no. 4, September 29, 1995)
Jesus brings God’s commandments to fulfillment by interiorizing their demands and bringing out their fullest meaning
Jesus brings God’s commandments to fulfilment, particularly the commandment of love of neighbour, by interiorizing their demands and by bringing out their fullest meaning. Love of neighbour springs from a loving heart which, precisely because it loves, is ready to live out the loftiest challenges. Jesus shows that the commandments must not be understood as a minimum limit not to be gone beyond, but rather as a path involving a moral and spiritual journey towards perfection, at the heart of which is love (cf. Col 3:14). […] The precept prohibiting adultery becomes an invitation to a pure way of looking at others, capable of respecting the spousal meaning of the body: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment’. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment… You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:21-22, 27-28). Jesus himself is the living ‘fulfilment’ of the Law inasmuch as he fulfils its authentic meaning by the total gift of himself: he himself becomes a living and personal Law, who invites people to follow him; through the Spirit, he gives the grace to share his own life and love and provides the strength to bear witness to that love in personal choices and actions (cf. Jn 13:34-35). (John Paul II. Encyclical Veritatis splendor, no. 15, August 6, 1993)
Though the Gospel teachings constitute a ‘sign of contradiction’ Christ grants his assistance and grace
The Church is aware of being in the world, with this teaching [not admitting the divorced in a ‘second union’ to participate in Eucharistic Communion] a ‘sign of contradiction’. The prophetic words that Simeon pronounced regarding the Divine Child, apply to Christ during his life, and also to the Church in its history. Many times, Christ, His Gospel and his Church become a ‘sign of contradiction’ before that which in man is not ‘of God’ but rather of the world or even of ‘the prince of darkness.’ By even calling evil by its name and confronting it decidedly, Christ always comes to the assistance of human weakness. He seeks the lost sheep. He cures the wounds of souls. He comforts man with his cross. In the Gospel he does not propose demands that man cannot fulfill with the grace of God and with his own will. On the contrary, his demands have as their goal the good of man: his true dignity. (John Paul II. Homily in Sameiro, Portugal, no. 7, May 15, 1982)
The trials of Christians are indeed numerous, but they must be faithful to God in their marriage
Overcoming the temptation to subject God to oneself and one’s own interests, or to put him in a corner and be converted to the correct order of priorities, giving God first place, is a journey that each and every Christian must make over and over again. […] The trials to which society today subjects Christians are indeed numerous and affect their personal and social life. It is far from easy to be faithful to Christian marriage, to practice mercy in daily life, to make room for prayer and inner silence; it is far from easy to oppose publicly the decisions that many take for granted, such as abortion in the case of unwanted pregnancy, euthanasia in the case of serious illness and embryo selection in order to prevent hereditary diseases. The temptation to set faith aside is always present and conversion becomes a response to God that must be strengthened several times in life. (Benedict XVI. General Audience, February 13, 2013)
- Christians must observe conjugal fidelity
Where are the Christian people, faithful to the observance of the precepts, solid in the faith, in preaching, in the love of the Cross? We cannot do other than reaffirm here the duty of conjugal fidelity, despite the legal existence of divorce. (Paul VI. General Audience, May 24, 1978)
The transmission of human life is only licit within Sacramental Marriage
We must solemnly proclaim that human life is transmitted by means of the family, and the family is based upon a marriage which is one and indissoluble and, with respect to Christians, raised to the dignity of a sacrament. The transmission of human life is the result of a personal and conscious act, and, as such, is subject to the all-holy, inviolable and immutable laws of God, which no man may ignore or disobey. (John XXIII. Encyclical Mater et magistra, no. 193, May 15, 1961)
Conjugal fidelity is the sacred duty of each of the spouses
1. Catholics valiantly oppose any theory or preaching favoring divorce, and, most especially those who exercise any public authority, seeking by all means to efficaciously protect the good of indissolubility.
2. Conjugal fidelity is the right and a sacred duty of each of the spouses. (John XXIII. Roman Synod, The articles of Title VIII, Of marriage, June 28, 1960)
The laws should chastise those who do not respect the indissolubility of the matrimonial bond
We have received news that the perpetual and indissoluble matrimonial bond whose solidity was proclaimed from all time and which Christ the Lord deigned to confirm with these words, that which God has united let no men separate, and to elevate with the grace of the Gospel – by which it is a great Sacrament of the Church – is dissolved with such facility in some parts of the Catholic world and especially in this distinguished Kingdom of Poland, as though matrimony had been contracted without taking into account the natural law, nor the divine right, nor the precepts of the Gospel nor even the canonical determinations. Due to this, our preoccupation is so great, as well as the sorrow that afflicts our Pontifical heart, to such an extent that we are able to express it neither with tears nor words. For, regardless of how much this brings us sorrow, we easily reach the conclusion that this license in the dissolution of conjugal bonds, through which – not without grave harm to the common good – a man and a woman -while the former spouses still live– dare to contract a third or fourth marriage, have had their origin in the liberal action of your curies, as we have become aware of by other sources. However, we cannot help but direct to you, venerable brothers, our most just complaints; and at the same time, so as to restrain – and within the limits prescribed by the Catholic Church to repress – so great license we think of preparing convenient laws and a means. (Benedict XIV. Encyclical Matrimonii, April 11, 1741)
Acts such as adultery are always gravely illicit – no circumstance can legitimize a ‘second union’
It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1756)
Not even for the sake of bearing children may one unite with another person
The sacrament demands the indissolubility of matrimony, and the repudiated man or woman may not unite with another person not even for the sake of bearing children. (Saint Augustine of Hippo, Literal Commentary of Genesis, lib. IX, Ch. VII, no. 12)
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who change darkness into light, and light into darkness, who change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter! (Is 5:20)
Any other union of man and woman, except the sacramental union, is nothing else than concubinage
No Catholic is ignorant or cannot know that matrimony is truly and properly one of the seven sacraments of the evangelical law, instituted by Christ the Lord, and that for that reason, there can be no marriage between the faithful without there being at one and the same time a sacrament, and that, therefore, any other union of man and woman among Christians, except the sacramental union, even if contracted under the power of any civil law, is nothing else than a disgraceful and death-bringing concubinage very frequently condemned by the Church, and, hence, that the sacrament can never be separated from the conjugal agreement. (Denzinger-Hünermann 2998. Pius IX. Allocution Acerbissimum vobiscum, September 27, 1852)
Anathema for those who deny that a new union after separation is adultery
If anyone says that the Church errs, inasmuch as she has taught and still teaches that in accordance with evangelical and apostolic doctrine (Mt 10:1, 1Cor 7) the bond of matrimony cannot be dissolved because of adultery of one of the married persons, and that both, or even the innocent one, who has given no occasion for adultery, cannot during the lifetime of the other contract another marriage, and that he, who after the dismissal of the adulteress shall marry another, is guilty of adultery, and that she also, who after the dismissal of the adulterer shall marry another: let him be anathema. (Denzinger-Hünermann 1807.Council of Trent Session XXIV, Doctrine concerning the Sacrament of Marriage, November 11, 1563)
II – All of the baptized are equally obliged to fulfill the Commandments with all the sacrifices that this implies
The Ten Commandments oblige always and everywhere – no one can dispense from them
Since they express man’s fundamental duties towards God and towards his neighbor, the Ten Commandments reveal, in their primordial content, grave obligations. They are fundamentally immutable, and they oblige always and everywhere. No one can dispense from them. The Ten Commandments are engraved by God in the human heart. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2072)
The Ten Commandments are obligatory for Christians
The Council of Trent teaches that the Ten Commandments are obligatory for Christians and that the justified man is still bound to keep them (Cf. DS 1569-1570); The Second Vatican Council confirms: ‘The bishops, successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord […] the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments’ (Lumen Gentium, no. 24). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2068)
There are no different degrees or forms of God’s law for different individuals and situations
They [the spouses] cannot however look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future: they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy. “And so what is known as ‘the law of gradualness’ or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law’, as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations. In God’s plan, all husbands and wives are called in marriage to holiness, and this lofty vocation is fulfilled to the extent that the human person is able to respond to God’s command with serene confidence in God’s grace and in his or her own will” (Homily at the Close of the Sixth Synod of Bishops, October 25, 1980, 8) (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio, no. 34, November 22, 1981)
Even during life’s difficult moments one must fulfill the commandments
My brethren, there may be difficult moments in your lives: there may even be more or less prolonged time periods in which you may think yourselves forgotten by God. But if at any time a temptation to discouragement arises within you, remember these words of Scripture: ‘Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you’ (Is 49:15). […] ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides’ (Mt 6:33). What does the Lord wish to say with these words? In what does this primordial objective consist? What must we do to seek, in the first place, the Kingdom of God? You well know the answer. You know that to reach eternal life it is necessary to fulfill the commandments, it is necessary to live according to the teachings of Christ, which are transmitted to us continually by his Church. For this reason, dear brethren, I encourage you to comport yourselves always as good Christians, to fulfill the commandments, to attend Mass on Sundays, to care for your Christian formation by attending the catechesis offered by your pastors, to confess frequently, to work, to be good parents and faithful spouses, to be good children. (John Paul II. Homily in the ‘Patria Nueva’ Colony in Mexico, no. 3.5, May 11, 1990)
The ‘indispensable fruits’ that the Christian must produce are in fulfilling the commandments
As a flourishing vine, Jesus has branches: these are constituted by those who, through faith and love, are vitally grafted to Him. Within these, a circulation of vital sap is established, which if on one hand is indispensible for bearing fruit (‘without me you can do nothing’ (Jn 15:5), on the other hand, it comports the necessity of manifestation in prolific fruit: ‘Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out…into a fire and they will be burned’ (Jn 15:6). Hence, the imperative: ‘Remain in me, as I remain in you…Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit’ (Jn 15:4-5). Jesus himself takes measures to clarify what this ‘remain in Him’ consists of: it consists in love, but a love that is not wasted in sentimentalism, but rather translates into the concrete testimony of fulfilling the commandments. This is, then, in synthesis, the substance of the gospel passage proposed in this liturgy. But a second question imposes itself [on us]: if this meaning is valid for all. […] All are disciples of Christ. (John Paul II. Homily for the inauguration of the academic year for the centers of ecclesiastical studies in Rome, no. 1-2, October 23, 1981)
All of the faithful are called to a generous fulfillment of the law of God
‘All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status – the Council recalls – are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity’ (Lumen Gentium, no. 40). The way of approaching this goal is through the generous fulfillment of the law of God (cf. Mt 7: 21). In the recent Encyclical Veritatis Splendor I remembered that ‘the commandments must not be understood as a minimum limit not to be gone beyond, but rather as a path involving a moral and spiritual journey towards perfection, at the heart of which is love’ (Veritatis Splendor, no. 15). The Christian is essentially one called to sanctity and the norm of his life is Christ himself: ‘Jesus’ way of acting and his words, his deeds and his precepts constitute the moral rule of Christian life’ (Veritatis Splendor, no. 20). (John Paul II. Angelus, no. 2, November 1, 1993)
The only way to build entirely fulfilled life is through observing the commandments
Dear young people, the teaching that develops from this dialogue is evident: to enter into Life, to arrive at heaven, one must fulfill the commandments. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21). Words are not enough: Christ asks you to love him in deeds: ‘Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father’ (Jn 14:21). ‘Faith and love – as I told you on the occasion of the 3rd World Youth Day, celebrated this year in Rome – are not to be reduced to empty words and sentiments. To believe in God and love God signifies living ones entire life in coherence with the light of the Gospel…and this is not easy. Yes! Many times one needs much courage to go against the current of the times or the mentality of this world. But, I repeat, this is the only way to build an entirely fulfilled life.’ (John Paul II. Meeting with the youth, at Ñu Guazú, Paraguay, no. 2, May 18, 1988)
Christians know that every day they must carry the Cross up the hill of their Calvary – sufferings are not a reason for abandoning God’s will
The Psalmist then continues his prayer, calling to mind the suffering and danger in the life he has to lead, in which he stands in need of enlightenment and support: ‘Lord, I am deeply afflicted: by your word give me life…. Though I carry my life in my hands, I remember your law’ (Ps 119: 107, 109). A dark image pervades the strophe: ‘the wicked try to ensnare me’ (v. 110), the person praying again intimates, making use of a hunting image well known to the Psalter. The faithful know that they are advancing on the highways of the world amid danger, anxiety and persecution; they know that trials are lying in wait. Christians, for their part, know that every day they must carry the Cross up the hill of their Calvary (cf. Lk 9: 23). (John Paul II. General Audience, no. 2, June 21, 2004)
Materialistic ideologies tell us it is absurd to observe God’s commandments
Today too, the dragon exists in new and different ways. It exists in the form of materialistic ideologies that tell us it is absurd to think of God; it is absurd to observe God’s commandments: they are a leftover from a time past. Life is only worth living for its own sake. Take everything we can get in this brief moment of life. Consumerism, selfishness and entertainment alone are worthwhile. This is life. This is how we must live. And once again, it seems absurd, impossible, to oppose this dominant mindset with all its media and propagandist power. Today too, it seems impossible to imagine a God who created man and made himself a Child and who was to be the true ruler of the world. (Benedict XVI. Homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, August 15, 2007)
The doctrine of Christ always remains the same
It follows therefore that they are destroying mutual fidelity, who think that the ideas and morality of our present time concerning a certain harmful and false friendship with a third party can be countenanced, and who teach that a greater freedom of feeling and action in such external relations should be allowed to man and wife, particularly as many (so they consider) are possessed of an inborn sexual tendency which cannot be satisfied within the narrow limits of monogamous marriage. […] that noble instinct which is found in every chaste husband and wife, and even by the light of the testimony of nature alone, – a testimony that is sanctioned and confirmed by the command of God: ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ (Ex 20:14) and the words of Christ: ‘Whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her hath already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Mt 5:28). The force of this divine precept can never be weakened by any merely human custom, bad example or pretext of human progress, for just as it is the one and the same ‘Jesus Christ, yesterday and today and the same forever’ (Heb 8:8). Such unworthy and idle opinions are condemned by so it is the one and the same doctrine of Christ that abides and of which no one jot or title shall pass away till all is fulfilled (Mt 5:18). (Pius XI. Encyclical Casti connubii, no. 73, December 31, 1930)
Those who do not obey God shall be righteously judged and those who have obeyed Him, honoured with immortality
For God at the first, indeed, warning them by means of natural precepts, which from the beginning He had implanted in mankind, that is, by means of the Decalogue (which, if any one does not observe, he has no salvation), did then demand nothing more of them. As Moses says in Deuteronomy: ‘These are all the words which the Lord spoke to the whole assembly of the sons of Israel on the mount, and He added no more; and He wrote them on two tables of stone, and gave them to me’ (Deut 5:22). For this reason [He did so], that they who are willing to follow Him might keep these commandments. […] And if certain persons, because of the disobedient and ruined Israelites, do assert that the giver (doctor) of the law was limited in power, they will find in our dispensation, that ‘many are called, but few chosen’ (Mt 20:16), and that there are those who inwardly are wolves, yet wear sheep’s clothing in the eyes of the world (foris); and that God has always preserved freedom, and the power of self-government in man, while at the same time He issued His own exhortations, in order that those who do not obey Him should be righteously judged (condemned) because they have not obeyed Him; and that those who have obeyed and believed on Him should be honoured with immortality. (Saint Ireneus of Lyons. Against heresies, Book IV, Ch. 15, no. 1-2)
III – Man’s happiness consists in doing the will of God
Blessed are the clean of heart
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. (Mt 5: 8)
All these curses will come upon those who do not keep the commandments of God
All these curses will come upon you, pursuing you and overwhelming you, until you are destroyed, because you would not hearken to the voice of the Lord, your God, nor keep the commandments and statutes he gave you. They will light on you and your descendants as a sign and a wonder for all time. (Deut 28:45-46)
True joy and serenity is found in the fulfillment of the divine precepts
However, the just keep their fidelity intact: ‘I have sworn and have made up my mind to obey your decrees. […] I remember your law. […] I do not stray from your precepts (Ps 119: 106, 109, 110). A conscience at peace is the strength of believers; their constancy in obeying the divine commandments is the source of their serenity. The final declaration is therefore consistent: ‘Your will is my heritage forever, the joy of my heart’ (v. 111) It is this that is the most precious reality, the ‘heritage’, the ‘reward’ (cf. v. 112) which the Psalmist cherishes with vigilant and ardent love: the teaching and commandments of the Lord. He wants to be totally faithful to the will of his God. On this path he will find peace of soul and will succeed in getting through the dark tangle of trials and reaching true joy. (John Paul II. General Audience, no. 3, June 21, 2004)
Happiness is not achieved by irresponsible selfishness which disrupts the family and society – even though the world spreads this falsity
Unfortunately, today a false message of happiness is spreading throughout the world, which is impossible and inconsistent, and brings with it loneliness and sorrow. Happiness is not achieved by taking the way of freedom without truth, because this is the way of irresponsible selfishness, which divides and disrupts the family and society. It is not true that married couples, as though slaves condemned to their own weakness, cannot be faithful to their total gift of self until death! May the Lord, who calls you to live in the unity of ‘one flesh’, a unity of body and soul, a unity of the whole of life, give you the strength for a fidelity which ennobles you and ensures that your union will not run the risk of betrayal, which robs it of dignity and happiness and brings division and sorrow to the home, the chief victims of which are the children. The best protection for the family is fidelity, which is a gift of the faithful and merciful God, in a love redeemed by him. (John Paul II. Address to the families in Rio de Janeiro, no. 2, October 4, 1997)
The only joy that fills the human heart comes from God: the cross of Christ
Can true happiness exist when God is left out of consideration? Experience shows that we are not happy because our material expectations and needs are satisfied. In fact, the only joy that fills the human heart is that which comes from God: indeed, we stand in need of infinite joy. Neither daily concerns nor life’s difficulties succeed in extinguishing the joy that is born from friendship with God. Jesus’ invitation to take up one’s cross and follow him may at first sight seem harsh and contrary to what we hope for, mortifying our desire for personal fulfilment. At a closer look, however, we discover that it is not like this: the witness of the saints shows that in the Cross of Christ, in the love that is given, in renouncing the possession of oneself, one finds that deep serenity which is the source of generous dedication to our brethren, especially to the poor and the needy, and this also gives us joy. The Lenten journey of conversion on which we are setting out today together with the entire Church thus becomes a favourable opportunity, ‘the acceptable time’ (2Cor 6:2) for renewing our filial abandonment in the hands of God and for putting into practice what Jesus continues to repeat to us: ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (Mk 8: 34) and this is how one ventures forth on the path of love and true happiness. (Benedict XVI. General Audience, February 6, 2008)
The Church has received from its Founder the mission of showing people the way to true happiness: fidelity to the words of Christ
My dear young friends […] Love and follow the Church, for it has received from its Founder the mission of showing people the way to true happiness. It is not easy to recognise and find authentic happiness in this world in which we live, where people are often held captive by the current ways of thinking. They may think they are ; ‘free’, but they are being led astray and become lost amid the errors or illusions of aberrant ideologies. ‘Freedom itself needs to be set free’ (cf. Veritatis Splendor, 86), and the darkness in which humankind is groping needs to be illuminated. Jesus taught us how this can be done: ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’ (Jn 8:31-32). The incarnate Word, Word of Truth, makes us free and directs our freedom towards the good. (Benedict XVI. Message to the youth of the 21st World Youth Day, April 9, 2006)
The sinner’s unfortunate good fortune
Since nothing is more unfortunate for sinners, than the good fortune of their sins. (Saint Augustine of Hippo quoted by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Catena Aurea, in Mt 5:38-42)
If you would be blessed, be undefiled – ‘blessed are they that walk in the law of the Lord’
From its commencement, dearly beloved, does this great psalm exhort us unto bliss, which there is no one who desires not […] As much as to say, I know what you wish, you are seeking bliss: if then you would be blessed, be undefiled. For the former all desire, the latter fear: yet without it what all wish cannot be attained. […] Listen now to what he adds: ‘Blessed are they that keep His testimonies, and seek Him with their whole heart’ (Ps 118:2). No other class of the blessed seems to me to be mentioned in these words, than that which has been already spoken of. For to examine into the testimonies of the Lord, and to seek Him with all the heart, this is to be undefiled in the way, this is to walk in the law of the Lord. He then goes on to say, ‘For they who do wickedness, shall not walk in His ways’ (Ps 118:3). And yet we know that the workers of wickedness do search the testimonies of the Lord for this reason, that they prefer being learned to being righteous: we know that others also search the testimonies of the Lord, not because they are already living well, but that they may know how they ought to live. Such then do not as yet walk undefiled in the law of the Lord, and for this reason are not as yet blessed. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. Commentary on Psalm 118 (119)
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